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For renting vs buying, I'd look at how much they cost vs how many times a year you think you'd use it. If you will only use it once a year or so it'll probably be cheaper to rent one, but if it's something that you'll be using every couple months then buying one may make more sense.
Picture one of the large trail behind chippers you see the road crews and utility companies using. They have a tremendous amount of horsepower, 12" or more blades and wide open chutes. They push in a whole tree and in 30 seconds you have a pile of wood chips. They are also fairly dangerous.
Some of the smaller home-owner chippers are more of a pain than a help. Depending on the chipper, the throat is usually so small that you are constantly having to break up the sticks every place they branch for them to fit down the chute. And they are not pulled in like the big units, these fed by you pushing the sticks in to the point that you can't reach or shouldn't reach in any farther. Gravity takes over with what's left over and the stick ends up bouncing around in there until it finally get nibbled away at until it's gone. It's very time consuming and noisy. About half the time it doesn't get all ground up and when you shut it down for the day and want to start it up the next day, yesterdays left overs are still down in there. Now their preventing you from starting it up because it has slid down and is now jamming the cutter head and preventing it from spinning. It's like trying to start a lawn mower when the blade is up against a rock. It's not going to happen. You either have to turn the machine upside down and hope gravity slides it the other way for you to get it out or unbolt the chute and pull it out.
I bought mine new about 8 years ago for around $650. It is a 6.5 HP Troybilt chipper/vac. I thought it was a good idea when I first got it. I find myself using it more for mulching leaves than chipping.
$650 would buy a lot of mulch. Another idea, I have recently talked to the tree trimmers doing their work on our road. They are usually looking for some place to dump their chips. I got two truck loads for free, it wasn't enough for what I needed, but it would have taken me a month of chipping to get the same pile with mine.
As you can hear, think twice before buying one (at least one like mine). That's my experience anyway.
Thank you for your input. I was hoping to find free mulch, but I guess the road crews don't have the budget for that any more. I suppose one that we could rent would be similar to the ones we could buy? Your experience sounds like just the encouragement I need to buy some mulch! Thanks.
Since I don't wonder through here very often, I'm chiming in pretty late. I bought a Troybuilt several years ago and love it! I try to stay with branches under 4" and would rather that the fresh leaves not be on the branches. Usually I like to chip in the spring and fall when its cooler. Yes, it is work but goes better with 2 people. One picking up the brush from the pile and one to feed the chipper. After awhile you'll figure out which pieces are more trouble than they're worth and you just don't put them through. Worth the money it cost? I'm not so sure about that but the brush needs to be dealt with anyway, and I enjoy the while project when we chip.
We've bought two chipper shredders off of craigslist --- saved 75% over buying one retail. We have 19 trees that require regular trimming and chip/shred the trimmings to make mulch for around the grass, flower beds and the garden. Buying one of these was an investment, but we've produced yards and yards of mulch. We're able to shred leaves as well which makes them ready to compost. All in all I'm really, really glad to have a chipper/shredder but couldn't have afforded to pay retail for one. The used ones have done fine -- I guess you just have to make sure you're not getting a machine that's been run into the ground.
Dead wood is much harder than green. Just try taking a pair of loppers and cut through a 1" green branch than a 1" dead one. Which was easier? With the chipper, it's the same way. On mine holding a dead branch in the chipper while it gets chewed up is about as bad as using a jackhammer. By the end of a couple hours of that, it feels like your arm is going to fall off.
We use our chipper on branches that are freshly trimmed off our trees. After seeing how the dead wood dulls the blade, my preference is to take any dead branches we get to the dump. Cutting blades are expensive to replace, not to mention the extra stress on the motor when it has to work harder to chip the wood.
I am going to chime in to the chipper caper a little late.
I would go to the rental yard and rent a chipper. If you have tree limbs that need to be dealt with on a regular basis, build a place where you can store them up for a few months; otherwise, take the limbs to the recycler, if you can't burn.
I have owned 2 home type chippers and neither were worth the sweat and aggravation I used trying to chip a few limbs. The last one I bought from Home Depot, a Cub Cadet. It was totally worthless!!! It was designed to prevent someone from getting injured and suing Home Depot or Cub Cadet. It was NOT designed to chip limbs. You couldn't even get it to mulch leaves without using a stick and poking the leaves into the machine. I used it a total of 20 minutes and shut it off. Unfortunately, I waited too long to use it after I bought it so HD would not give me my money back.
I have a smaller Mackissick. We use it a lot , we have had it for about 7 yrs and starts every time we use it. It is pulled by a lawn tractor and is not too bad to move by hand . Up hill no but on the flat not a problem.
They are not cheap but we have a lot of trees.